Don’t miss Burkhard’s Bilger’s profile of Dogfish breweries & the extreme beer phenomenon in the new New Yorker. I got dizzy just reading about the juniper-flavored sahti that also includes “cardamom, coriander, ginger, allspice, rampe leaves, lemongrass, curry powder, and black tea.”
About Tuesday night’s Kafka Fragments ….
Vocally, musically, it is hard to imagine a better performace. Without any show of effort Upshaw delivered the full range of Kurtág’s music: lyric, acidic, tender, frothing with rage, awestruck, disgusted, bemused, exasperated, overwhelmed with terror, cynical, desolate …. Each etched with emphatic clarity. Each distinguished from the others so that there is not a moment of confusion. Each succeeding the other with no transition, after the briefest pause. It was beautiful, terrifying, bewildering, shattering.
The performace was a triumph for Upshaw. She demonstrated that she can do anything. At one point she was laying face down on stage, her head covered by her arms, and even from that position her voice filled Disney Hall.
Yes, but didn’t Peter Sellars ruin it all with his staging?
The answer is No. In fact, the costumes and the stage business saved the work from becoming a period piece of mid-20th century Arty Eastern European Existentialism. For that alone, Sellars deserves thanks. Moreover, Sellars has made explicit a trajectory of moods—if not a narrative—that is really present in the music. The details were perhaps arbitrary, but the sense of the whole harmonized with the sense of the work. Part 1 is a wild ride across the whole range of moods. Part 2, “The True Path,” is an impassioned lyric interlude. Part 3 is a descent into madness. Part 4 is a kind of transcendence that ends in reconciliation.
The staging also capitalized on the personal dynamic of the two musicians involved: the soprano (Upshaw) and the violinist (Geoff Nuttall) were in costume, they each had their own actions, they interacted. They didn’t exactly portray characters, but they registered a human context and human exchange that was moving. Both were in tears at the end, and no wonder.
That said, there were things not to like. I agree with AD that David Michalek’s black and white still photograph projections were an abomination. Who wants to look at that crap when there was Upshaw and Geoff Nutall to look at? During “The flower hung dreamily” section the projections of dead leaves and bare branches were distractions that Upshaw’s titanic singing and riveting mime fortunately blasted into oblivion.
I suppose I can imagine a restrained straight recital performance, in which the vocalist gets to wear a lovely gown, and deport herself elegantly, and doesn’t have to scrub the stage floor or wash dishes. That could be good, too. And it might leave Kurtág’s music more freedom. But, this demonstration of the intense theatricality of the piece is important. It throws a light on the rest of Kurtág. He is all intense, condensed exclamations—with no story, no development, no build up and no reminiscences. There are no introductions and no afterwards: he says his bit and stops, end of story. One impassioned exclamation is followed by another, usually in an entirely different mood. This is not dramatic in the sense of Mozart or Verdi or Wagner, but it contains the possibility of a dramatic treatment: gists and piths of ecstasy, voluptuousness, passion, outrage, despair.
The last time Thomas Adès came to Disney he played Couperin, the last word in earnest French refinement; last week he played Berlioz, the last word in flashy French ultraromanticism. He began by leading the Los Angeles Master Chorale and a huge orchestra through the Marseillais, no less. Then came the entertaining but completely mad hunt and storm scene from The Trojans. What's going on here? Is Adès using Berlioz to argue color and drama and literary conceits are OK?
Before beginning his own America: a Prophecy, Adès clarified that the theme of the program was catastrophe--national catastophe, global catastrophe, universal catastrophe. (Had he been anticipating a McCain/Palin victory?
His America was pitch black. A soloist rages and grieves over her soon-to-be-obliterated culture, while the orchestra and chorus create magnificent menace. It ends with the silver lining sentiment: “ash feels no pain." It was like a musical transcription of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Who invited Cassandra to the party? I guess that was the point.
Appalachian Spring would have been unbearable if the election had turned out differently, but, happily, it seemed another affirmation of our better angels. And the dryness and spareness of it really struck me; it's not so utterly removed from early John Cage or Morton Feldman. I’m glad they didn’t ask me to play the Britten violin concerto. Midori is probably one of two people on earth who can handle it. Little bursts of lyricism and then jumping abruptly to the next thing. Fiendish but not showy, which is why it never gets played.
(I doubt the choice of two gay composers for the first half of the program was deliberate, but the question came up, especially since getting to Disney that night involved driving around the tail-end of Silver Lake's Stop Prop. 8 demonstration. Just wondering.)
We knew Revueltas La noche de los mayas was going to be a wow when we saw 14 percussionists assembled in the back of the stage (bongos, caracol, drum with snares, drum without snares, guiro, huehuetl, Indian drum, sonajas, tam-tam, tom-toms, tumbadora, tumkul, and xylophone), and it was. But what really sent me was the big flat fart the tuba kept making during the Jarana dance.
(Some demonstrators were still out after the concert. Best sign: "I didn't vote on your marriage.")
October 28-November 3. Paralyzed with terror awaiting the final last-ditch smear. What comes after Auntie Zeituni?
November 4. Total media blackout: the chatter would drive me over the edge. Stayed home and read Gogol (Laura Bush apparently prefers Dostoyevsky). Just after eight o’clock, from all directions around Silver Lake, cheering and shouting. Then honking. Is it over? Outbursts of cheering continue throughout the evening.
November 5. Morning. The first words out of the clock radio are "Elizabeth Dole lost.” This is going to be a good day. While enjoying the sound of “President-elect Obama,” I don’t really grasp what’s happening.
Afternoon. It’s starting to sink in. Relief.
Evening. Finally start reading the newspaper accounts, and looking at pictures from Democrats Abroad election parties around the world. Exhilaration/bewilderment, like when the Berlin Wall came down.
November 6. Now what? Purebred or rescued?